Your Excellency, Enacted in 1978, our present Constitution is Gaullist in conception and character, strongly and unequivocally republican. The conditions today seem ripe for a new Gaullist Republic – something along the lines of France’s Fifth Republic. You are perhaps […]
Enacted in 1978, our present Constitution is Gaullist in conception and character, strongly and unequivocally republican. The conditions today seem ripe for a new Gaullist Republic – something along the lines of France’s Fifth Republic. You are perhaps the best placed to achieve the sort of change de Gaulle achieved in 1958 and Garibaldi did centuries earlier: the forging of a new order, a new Social Contract.
This new Social Contract should not, of course, substitute jackals and hyenas for leopards and lions, but should lead to a new dawn, a sunset, or in the very least a twilight. As Nayantha Wijesudera put it in an essay written a month after last year’s presidential election, you remain “many things to many people.” To some you are a unifier; to others, a polarizer. It is this blend of unification and polarization within you which, I think, will bring about that new dawn.
Political philosophers and theorists talk of two kinds of Social Contracts, both formulated in 17th century England, one by Thomas Hobbes and the other by John Locke. A Social Contract highlights a relationship of give-and-take between the State and its subjects. The difference between the thinking of these two philosophers is the rationale they cite as the need for such an authority.
Hobbes argues that the need for security makes government an urgent necessity; Locke argues that the need for freedom makes it so. Hobbes is an unyielding pessimist, Locke a cautious pragmatist. Hobbes characterizes pre-government society as a state of war; Locke characterizes it as an Eden before the Fall. Hobbes contends that without government, there can be no security; Locke contends that without it there can be no balance between freedom and equality. In other words, the Hobbesian Social Contract emphasizes collective sovereignty, while the Lockean Social Contract emphasizes individual sovereignty.
A country cannot and will not enjoy individual sovereignty unless it attempts to meet the requirements of collective sovereignty. Without security, there can be no freedom. Without food on the table, there can be no constitutional reforms. Without a larger pie, there can be no talk about dividing equal shares among the country’s many communities. To put it more abstrusely, the economic-material ought to precede the ideological-idealistic; to put it more simply, Hobbes ought to precede Locke, as it did in much of the West. The transition from the one to the other must hence be handled gently, but firmly.
If we attempt a Lockean Social Contract before we do a Hobbesian one, the results can be, as we saw during the previous regime, disastrous. It is an unnecessary or uncalled for caesarean operation. Mercifully, the previous government’s attempt at such an operation was pre-empted through the vote, though as the Easter attacks – symbolic of its neglect of national-collective security – showed, it came too late.
Sri Lanka hence does not need another such Lockean caesarean. To borrow a metaphor I used before, before one cuts a slice and shares it, one must have a bigger pie. To make the pie bigger, a Social Contract based on staunchly republican values – values which Viyath Maga indubitably stands for – ought to replace the old order we’re living in now. For that, an unparalleled political and economic paradigm shift is needed; from a mindset that says we cannot to one that says we can. We must, as one commentator argued four months ago, become a net producer rather than a net consumer.
A country that produces has very little to fear. A country that imports and consumes, on the other hand, has very little to stand on. Our foreign policy has always been an extension of a weak domestic policy: we’ve always been an import-oriented economy since independence, and so we’ve always tried to invite as many as possible from outside to butcher us and leave behind tidbits for us to flash out to the world as signs of a prospering society. Our new Social Contract must, clearly, privilege local production and investment.
We tried it once. The Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime is unfairly labelled today as a regressive and retarded period today, but the truth was that the experiment failed owing to various external economic factors. We’re living in a more different time, a different world, and thus can’t attempt the same experiment again. But we can produce, like we once did. After all, Mr President, this is not a country that lacks resources.
The point isn’t that we should transform. The point is that we can. And if we can, it follows that we should. This is the underlying thrust of the new Social Contract.
You have your chance now, Mr President.